GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County’s youngest convicted killer will see his case go before the Court of Appeals next month.
At the same time, his mother is awaiting the outcome of her appeal after she was convicted of abusing him in the months before he killed a 9-year-old child.
Last month, Jamarion Lawhorn celebrated his 15th birthday in the Muskegon River Youth Home.
The boy he stabbed to death in August 2014, Connor Verkerke, would have turned 12.
Now, attorneys for the teen are asking the Court of Appeals to give him a new trial.
Jamarion has been locked up since he was 12, moments after he stabbed 9-year-old Connor with a knife he buried in the sand of a Kentwood playground. Jamarion told police in the hours after the stabbing that he was looking for someone to kill and the 9-year-old boy who asked him if he wanted to play just happened to be the most convenient victim.
It is that confession his defense attorneys say should not have been allowed in court when he was convicted of first-degree murder.
The attorneys say that a 12-year-old — especially one who suffered abuse at the hands of his parents — is not competent to waive his Miranda rights.
The attorneys say this is true even though his mother and stepfather were there. They had conflicts of interest since they would be facing charges of abuse against the boy for which they would be convicted.
The defense claims the evidence clearly shows Jamarion was mentally ill at the time of the crime. They say the judge should have set aside the murder conviction and ruled him guilty but mentally ill.
The attorneys also say that the fact that the jury could not consider manslaughter as an option — only consider first- or second-degree murder or not guilty — effectively left Jamarion without a viable defense.
Finally, the appeal claims a particularly graphic autopsy photo should not have been presented to the jury, saying it was unfairly prejudicial.
The Court of Appeals will hear the defense arguments on May 10.
The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has not filed a response yet. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told 24 Hour News 8 his office does not plan to offer arguments, but will be there if the court has any questions.
It will likely be several weeks before the court rules on the appeal, which Jamarion automatically gets because he was convicted of a capital offense.
A week after the case is heard, Jamarion will be in Kent County Family Court for an update on his status in the home and more clues as to whether he should receive an adult sentence after he turns 19.
ANITA LAWHORN APPEALS ABUSE CONVICTION
Jamarion’s mother has her own appeal before the court after her conviction for abusing him in May 2013. Anita Lawhorn remains on probation until the year 2020.
Investigators found that the Lawhorn home was in deplorable condition and both mother and son would tell police that she would give him what they called “whuppings.” Investigators also found scars on Jamarion they believe caused by something like an electrical cord.
In November 2015, a judge sentenced in her to a year in jail and five years of probation. She spent 150 days behind bars and could be sentenced to the remaining time if the judge finds she did not live up to the terms of her probation.
In the time since her sentencing, she has appeared in Kent County Family court and has been able to maintain custody of her remaining children — Judge Paul Denenfeld praising her progress.
But her son told the judge he rarely sees her at the juvenile home and she has not shown up at hearings regarding the boy’s progress. The now-15-year-old told a judge he did not want his mother forced to come see him.
Anita Lawhorn’s appeal was heard earlier this month and her attorneys say that the child abuse statute on which she was convicted is too vague and overly broad. They say it is impossible for a normal person to know where the line is between legal corporal punishment and abuse.
The defense says the sentence was too harsh and was influenced by the conviction of her son. They say that is unfair and violates a basic legal concept that a person should only be punished for the crimes they personally committed.
The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office argues that the scarring indicates that Anita Lawhorn knew or should have known that she had gone beyond appropriate punishment.
It is a long shot that either of these appeals will result in the cases being overturned. Appeals courts are often very reluctant to overturn the verdict of a jury unless there is clear and compelling evidence of injustice.